The Gates of Repentance
Now that we're entering the last of the four gates we find ourselves coming
full circle, and expanding upon a theme we introduced at the very beginning
of this work. We'll quote from what we said there, and expand upon it here.
We pointed out that “the ultimate theme of ‘The Gates of Repentance’ and the
meaning of teshuva itself is drawing close to G-d. For when we sin, we draw
away from G-d, so to speak.... But when we do teshuva, we return to Him...,
we return everything to its rightful place in our relationship to Him and in
the world. We return our soul to the purer, clearer spiritual position it
occupied before that sin was committed.”
We then added that we can thus draw *closer yet* to G-d “the way a couple
who’d somehow hurt each other's feelings, then apologized and made amends,
would then find themselves even closer than before after the fact.“
Drawing on the analogy between our relationship with others to our link to
G-d we’ll make the point here, in this gate, that sometimes apologizing and
making amends isn’t enough. Because there are instances in which the wrong
done and the hurt felt is simply too deep to slip away (if one could say that
G-d “hurts”). And sometimes more formidable measures are called for.
That’s what we’ll be concentrating on from here on, in our treatment of “The
Gates of Repentance”-- more serious wrongs, deeper hurts, and formidable
measures. As well as ultimate Divine forgiveness, atonement, and amends.
Rabbeinu Yonah comes to indicate all this by pointing out that the soul
becomes ill, in a way, when we sin. And that the sort of teshuva (means of
returning to G-d) we’d addressed to now acts as a remedy-- usually.
Sometimes, though, the sort of healing that teshuva allows for isn’t enough.
For as he puts it, it’s a fact of life that “you sometimes find a body
starting to heal, then nearly fully healing but still not entirely free of
disease until the patient ingests a bitter tonic...” His point is that
“that’s also true of a soul infected with serious sin.” The person who’d
committed such a sin and had so separated him- or herself from G-d would
indeed have to ingest a “bitter tonic” of a different sort.
As such, some serious sins bring tribulation in their wake; others hang over
our head, so to speak, until Yom Kippur (when they’re finally forgiven); and
yet others can’t be undone our whole life long. There are, however, always
means of amelioration, as Rabbeinu Yonah will soon point out. Some of those
other means will be the focus of this last gate, too.
We’ll delve into other serious sins that call for amelioration soon enough.
But for now we’ll concentrate on an infamous one: profaning G-d’s name. That
sin is based on the following.
Souls in search of spiritual excellence try their best to do good and to
avoid wrongdoing. And when they follow that path for years and years, not
only are they imbued with a certain intangible elegance and dignity from G-d,
they’re also held to a higher standard by Him-- *and by us*.
After all, they represent what’s best in humankind, and what we ourselves
feel we’re capable of, but which we still and all don’t know how to
achieve. So when a person truly in search of spiritual excellence-- who has
actually achieved some modicum of it-- steps forward, he or she represents
the best of the rest of us-- and he represents G-d, too.
So when he somehow or another does or says something off the mark, it’s
noticed. And on a very deep and subliminal level, G-d (and the human
potential) is made to look “bad” in others’ eyes. Such a person is said to
have “profaned G-d’s name” by doing that-- to have lowered G-d’s esteem on
earth, if one can say as much.
Hence, profaning G-d’s name is so catastrophic a “disease” that it’s utterly
“fatal”. Unless the person guilty of it follows the ensuing “medical
He’d have to turn full circle and *sanctify* G-d’s name. Which is to say,
He’d have to do things that would restore G-d’s reputation and raise His
esteem among the rest of us, and have us “admire” (i.e., worship) Him again
with renewed vigor.
But what could such a person do to sanctify G-d’s name? He can go out of his
way to “speak of G-d’s might and glory, and of the majesty of His rule”, as
Rabbeinu Yonah puts it. And he can make it a point to uphold the truth that
the Torah embodies, “help others searching for faith, and to eradicate
untruth and injustice” in the world. “Because,“ as he puts it, “spreading
truth and restoring it to its full strength brings honor to G-d” like nothing
Subscribe to Spiritual Excellence and receive the class via e-mail.